Thousands of teenagers got their GCSE results today. Many pupils will stay on to do A-levels, but some 16-year-olds will have had enough of school.
For the first time this year, the law requires school-leavers to stay on in some kind of education or training until the age of 18.
That sounds like a cast-iron rule, but in reality the government has made things a little more flexible.
The government has changed the rules for school leavers, so if you started in year 11 in September last year, you will have to continue in education or training until your 18th birthday.
That covers most pupils who got their GCSE results today, and the government says they now have to take one of three options:
This is partly an attempt to cut the country’s historically high levels of young people who are NEET (not in education, employment or training).
An OECD study from 2012 found that 18 per cent of people in the UK had left school without doing A-levels, putting the country at number 25 out of 36 for drop-out rates.
NEET rates have dropped in recent months but remain worryingly high. In April to June 2014 8 per cent of people aged 16 to 18 were not in education, employment or training, the lowest second-quarter figure since records began in 2000.
The government has raise the participation age to 18 via the Education and Skills Act 2008, which places a legal “duty” on the pupil (not their parents) to participate in some kind of education or training.
But what does that really mean? What happens to young people who refuse? Err…nothing.
The government’s advice to parents reads: “The law has changed, but there will be no action taken against any young people who don’t participate. We want to encourage your child to participate because of the benefits it will bring.”
There was some talk from the Prime Minister about stopping young people who were NEET from getting benefits, but this won’t happen until after the election.
As far as we can tell (information from the Department for Education has not been forthcoming yet) the welfare rules haven’t changed, which means 16- and 17-year-olds who aren’t in work or on a course can access some, though by no means all, state benefits.
Even though there are no penalties for not taking part, local councils are apparently expected to track down young people who don’t play ball.
“Your local authority is responsible for identifying and supporting 16-17 year olds who are not participating and will be working to ensure that young people are enrolled on a suitable education or training place.”
Similarly, the government is asking employers to give young workers some kind of part-time education or training, but not making them.
DfE advice is that under-18s working full-time should also study for “a minimum of 280 guided learning hours per year, which is the equivalent to one day per week but doesn’t necessarily have to be taken that way – it could be distance or evening learning for example.”
Very flexible. In fact it’s pretty clear that it doesn’t have to be taken at all: “There are no duties on employers in relation to RPA (Raising the Participation Age), so there will be no action taken against you if your employee fails to undertake part-time training.”
In fact, the 2008 legislation did place two duties on employers – to check that a young worker is enrolled on a suitable training course and to agree hours that will let them study – but these parts of the Act ”will not be introduced“, the government assures employers.
“We think that employers will encourage young people to train without the need for burdensome new duties and so we have decided not to commence these two duties in 2013.”
This is a curious situation. On the face of it, the law has been changed so that 16-year-olds must stay in education or training until they are 18. But what happens if you break the law? Nothing.
Things are even more relaxed when it comes to employers making sure that their teenage staff do some kind of training as well as working.
That is apparently the intention, but the government has decided not to implement its own legislation. So what happens to employers if young people choose not to study as well as work? Nothing.